|Amherst's Warner Sparkles on Softball Diamond|
Amherst's Warner Sparkles on Softball Diamond
by Sam Masinter '04
Warner was only in third grade when she first took to the diamond, and softball was the third thing her parents had pitched at her - first came ballet and gymnastics. "They lasted a day," she said, "then, I quit." Her parents didn't seem to mind; in fact, they seemed rather pleased that their daughter was trading in her tutu for a uniform. "My mom is pretty much the biggest baseball fan in the family," she noted. Her parents were more than happy to have a "sports kid" in the ranks, and they grew to be her greatest supporters.
A successful first four years of competition sent Warner searching for a more competitive league, and starting in seventh grade, Warner began playing in the Alameda-Contra Costa Athletic League. A native of Berkeley, Calif., she had to travel 20 miles to Hayward to find a team, and it was there that Warner ran into Rick Chavez, a pitching coach who would help Warner find her way to the mound. Once a week, Warner met Chavez for pitching lessons, a routine that followed her into high school, and to this day she occasionally sees him for "tune-ups." A classic tough-guy coach with a soft heart, Chavez would tutor Warner with what she began to call "Rickisms." "Good enough isn't," he'd say. "If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late." Warner knows them all by heart.
However, one lesson a week didn't make a pitcher, and Warner knew it. She turned her backyard into a personal training camp, and her father became her personal catcher, logging thousands of repetitions, working on everything she could. Warner built herself up throughout high school, earning the league MVP her senior year. When it came time to pitch herself to colleges, she didn't have to try hard to get noticed.
Warner could've landed anywhere she wanted when it came time to take flight from the West Coast, but she had her heart set on a school "no smaller than my high school" (a school of more than 3,500) located somewhere on the East Coast. Though smaller than she intended, Amherst hooked Warner on her visit to campus in the fall of her senior year of high school. "I loved the girls on the team," she said. Warner may have been the jewel of the diamond in high school, but she didn't want it to be her life; "I wanted sports to be a part of my college experience, not my entire college experience," she explained. It all made Amherst a perfect fit.
Being part of a team was what drove Warner away from gymnastics and ballet in the first place; she felt most at home when she was part of a bigger group. Warner joined the softball team as a first-year, a young, fresh face ready to start at the bottom of the ranks and work her way to the top. However, she was shoved right into the spotlight on the first day as the team told her, "Here's the ball. Go pitch." Since then Warner has appeared in 63 games and more than 379 innings in a Lord Jeff uniform.
Warner's pitching has evolved out of the first problem she encountered in softball-never being the fastest or strongest. Her arsenal of pitches is more James Bond than Rambo. She relies heavily on screwballs, curves and change-ups, pitches that require deadly finesse and craftiness to hit the perfect spot. Warner has pulled strike after strike from her bag of tricks, building a career stat sheet that reads like a dream. She nabbed First-Team All-NESCAC honors in her rookie campaign, leading the conference in wins (12), innings pitched (164.2), strikeouts (181), shutouts (4), complete games (22) and opponent batting average (.207). In her sophomore year, she finished second in the NESCAC and 21st in the nation in strikeouts per seven innings (8.1). Her junior season yielded First-Team All-NESCAC and First-Team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District, finishing with seven shutouts, good for second in the NESCAC, surrendering just 14 earned runs in 97 innings of work and fanning a league-best 9.4 batters per seven innings.
In the end, though, Warner didn't come to Amherst to play softball, and she scoffs at the idea that any student comes to Amherst just for sports. "When [former head softball coach] Sue Everden recruited me," Warner explained, "she talked about academics and the social scene at Amherst almost as much as softball. It was this blend of opportunities that sold me on Amherst. Without athletics, I think Amherst would lose some of its best, most dynamic students." A history and French double major, she has made the most of her academic experience, spending a semester and summer in Paris. Warner will to being working with the A Better Chance (ABC) House, an urban program aimed at closing the startingly wide racial gap in education, in Amherst this fall. After graduation, Warner plans to either join the Teach for America program or pursue graduate studies in social action.
As Warner warms up for a final season of competitive softball and the last pitch that will sail her out of the Pioneer Valley, it's not clear where she's going to land. Wherever it is, though, chances are that there's going to be change, and she's ready to face whatever comes.
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